Percy Wolstenholme's War (1914 - 1919)

A few years ago I posted an article to the site concerning a British Prisoner of War who was staved to death by the Germans and who sadly died whilst in captivity. His name was Charles Hurt and he was from Sheffield.

Last week a fellow researcher contacted me and pointed me towards this article that appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated Wednesday 22nd January 1919. Unlike Charles Hurt, Percy Wolstenholme did return to his house in Kirby Road Darnall Sheffield but only after enduring three years of utter deprivation and suffering at the hands of the Turkish Army. 

The following is a transcript of Percy's ordeal - the paper copy is not legible.   

  Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Wednesday 22 January 1919


Sheffield Soldier's Experiences in Asia Minor. 

A terrible story of hardships endured whilst a captive in the hands of the Turks in the mountains of Asia Minor and in the wastes of the Syrian desert was related to a "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" representative by Private Percy Wostenholme, of the 6th East Yorks, who has recently arrived at his home, 9, Kirby Road, Darnall, Sheffield. 

Joining -Kitchener's Army in November, 1914, he went out to the Dardanelles. In the following August the party, consisting of about a hundred men to which he was attached, was surprised and surrounded by an overwhelming number of Turks. On taking the men prisoners the Turks' first act was to shoot the colonel and other officers. The rank and file were placed under a guard of bloodthirsty natives, who frequently pricked them with their bayonets. Coming to a narrow defile through which the prisoners had to pass in single file,Wostenholme's friend, who was badly wounded, was bayoneted to death by the guard. 
The party were then taken to the general headquarters, which General Von Sanders, to celebrate his first capture of a number of Kitchener's men, gave them a meal, cigarettes, and a sovereign. After this they were. handed over to a mounted guard, for whose actions, it was understood, the German General could not be held responsible. It seemed that their worst fears were about to be realised when they were marched to the nearest crossroads lined up facing the guard, and were told to takel off their boots and socks and tunics. Behind them a trench had already been dug, and the British soldiers guessed that this would prove to bo their common grave. However, they were marched away from the trench, arid then commenced an agonising tramp of six miles, during which time the mounted guard kept them at a run, and beat the stragglers with rifle butts and swords. The men were barefooted and without tunics, and in the villages en route stones and sticks were thrown at, them. That night they slept on straw under the trees, and the following morning many were too sore and stiff to move. A few days later the prisoners who were able to see British aeroplanes passing over them, were marched to the coast and put aboard a Turkish vessell, which was in danger of being torpedoed by British submarines. Whilst on this vessel they were herded into the engine room, where the heat was intense. 

On arriving at Constantinople, they were marched half-clad round the city to impress the natives with Britain's inability to clothe her army. Their first barrack was a room under the War Office, but for a week they had very little sleep, as the place was verminous. Their fellow-prisoners included Turkish and Greek Socialists and conscientious objectors, who were in chains. The next place of internment was the Pierra barracks, where the lodgings were very cold and verminous. They were warned to use bread sparingly, and because one prisoner scattered crumbs on the floor he 'was whipped. From Constantinople, Wostenholme and his fellow-prisoners commenced their dreary wanderings over Asia Minor, their first camp being Angora, on tho Bagdad railway. Here they were lodged in an old monastery, and lived on a starvation diet, which consisted of 31, ozs. of meat per man and 41bs of potatoes and 2lbs of tomatoes among over a hundred men. Occasionally they received a raw egg or an olive for breakfast. A mid-day a ration of dirty lentils was served. The liquid provided always contained insects. Under these conditions men fell ill and died of starvation.

Armenian and American Aid. 

After leaving Angora a march of four days across the mountains landed them at Kiangri. Many of the prisoners had left a sick bed to udertake the tramp, and when they lagged they were struck by the escort, which was composed of young recruits. On the ,second day's march they rested in an Armenian chapel, and by the kindness of an Armenian gentleman were served with a substantial meal. At Kiangri the billet and food were an improvement, and afterwards they received money from the American Consul and were allowed to buy food. On Christmas Day they enjoyed a game of football. In the middle of January the prisoners were ordered to return to Angora. The winter had set in, and as snow had fallen the roads were almost impassable, and the carts which served as ambulances for the sick were submerged in mud up to the axle. 

On arriving at Angora they found the shops decorated and the townsfolk holidaying because the British had evacuated Gallipoli. and the Tnrks thought the war was over. From Angora they boarded a train for Betemedick, The journey took three days, as at one place the engine was detached to take another train for a journey of twenty-four hours' duration. At Belemedick the prisoners were told that their letters from home would reach them with greater regularity but must not contain more than four lines. Up to that time Wostenholme had only received one letter. From Belemedick he went out with a working party to Kouchtjoular, where he was employed making roads at a height of about 1,400 ft. above sea level.' In the summer a party of British prisoners arrived from Kut. They were in a terrible condition, being nothing more than walking skeletons. Many were blind, and others were too feeble to walk. 

Every kindness was shown to them by their more fortunate compatriots in Kouchtjoular, but many died. It was about this same time also that news of Lord Kitchener's death reached the camp. Whilst at this place the whole party improved in health, and the sick were well nursed by German nurses and Indian Medical Service doctors taken at Kut. In May, 1917, the party were transferred to Serdji-han, in the north of the Syrian Desert. In December they were again moved to Nisibin, and later to the Auenat section, where they commenced making a track across the desert. At this time the food consisted of lentils and hard peas, and they were obliged to sell all surplus clothing to get food. Wostenholme's weight was then reduced to seven stones, but a return to Nisibin followed and he began to pick up. On October 31 they were ordered to go to Mosul, but when the journey was only half-completed the armistice was signed, and the party returned to Nisibin. 

The sufferings of the little band were almost over, and a few days later British officers and armoured cars arrived, and were welcomed with hearty British cheers. Then the prisoners were sent to Aleppo and from there to Hamah, and reached England by way of Tripoli, Beruit, Port Said, Italy. and Calais.

I think this is the Percy Wolstenholme that gave the interview to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. It is his pension record from Pension Record Cards and Ledgers. The details are behind a pay-wall on Ancestry.

Name: Percy Wolstenholme
Gender: Male
Rank: 3 AM
Record Type: Disability
Residence Place: Sheffield
Military Service Region: Yorkshire, North East
Military Country: England
Service Number: 15273
Corps, Regiment or Unit: East Yorkshire Regiment
Service Branch: Military (Army)
Title: WWI Pension Record Cards and Ledgers
Description: PRC Ledgers - Reference Number: 4/MW/11003
Next of Kin: Relation to Soldier - Percy Wolstenholme 


Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated Wednesday 22nd January 1919

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This page was last updated on 24/04/22 16:06